Maccabi Tel Aviv midfielder Dor Micha (left) is tackled by Bnei Yehuda’s Ben Turgeman (right) during last night’s 0-0 draw in Petah Tikva..
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
Maccabi Tel Aviv will enter next Sunday’s showdown with Hapoel Beersheba two points back of the reigning champion and the summit after being held to a 0-0 draw at Bnei Yehuda on Sunday.
Maccabi had won its six previous Premier League games, but was coming in on the back of a disappointing 3-0 defeat to Maccabi Haifa in the State Cup round-of-16 last Wednesday and was held scoreless yet again by Bnei Yehuda in Petah Tikva.
The yellow-and-blue struggled to create many clear-cut chances against Yossi Abuksis’s resolute side, but did come close on several occasions. Nick Blackman’s first-half header was denied by the post and Bnei Yehuda goalkeeper Emilijus Zubas came up with a sensational save to stop Eliran Atar’s dangerous stoppage-time attempt. Bnei Yehuda remained in fifth place.
“The team worked hard, but Bnei Yehuda was very difficult to break down,” said Maccabi coach Jordi Cruyff. “This is the kind of game that you won’t have good chances and you have to convert half chances and we didn’t do that. This is not the result we wanted to have. I feel we lost two points.”
Yellow-and-blue midfielder Dor Micha said his team will have to compensate for the dropped points with a victory over Beersheba.
“We need to lift our heads as we have a very important match next week. It is a match everyone is waiting for,” said Micha. “Of course it isn’t good to drop points with the table so tight so we will have to make up for it next week. It is a crucial match which we can’t afford to lose.”
Beitar Jerusalem can close back to within one point off the summit when it visits Maccabi Netanya on Monday. Beitar has overcome distractions all season to keep pace with the leaders, picking up 13 of a possible 15 points from its last five games. One of the stories that had continually overshadowed the side’s success on the field was veteran midfielder Yossi Benayoun’s lack of playing time.
Benayoun’s already small role completely vanished over recent months after he got on the wrong side of club owner Eli Tabib. After he didn’t even play a single minute in the State Cup round-of-16 win over Hapoel Marmorek last Thursday in a match which saw Beitar field several second-string players, it became clear that Benayoun no longer had a future at the club and he bid an emotional farewell to his teammates and the fans in Saturday’s training session. “No one chased Benayoun out of Beitar. It was in everybody’s interest that he would succeed at Beitar, but he decided to leave,” Tabib said in an interview to website One. “Benayoun isn’t Eli Ohana or Uri Malmilian who brought Beitar titles. If Benayoun had come here at the prime of his career that would have been something else. We respect him, but at a club like Beitar Jerusalem no player is guaranteed a starting role.”
Benayoun’s options look to be very limited, with the only teams showing any interest in his services being Hapoel Haifa and Maccabi Petah Tikva. However, with Haifa agreeing on Sunday a deal with 32-year-old Gili Vermouth, who will return to his boyhood club from Maccabi Haifa, it seems Benayoun may have to settle for playing for a team in the bottom half of the standings.
After a sensational start to the campaign, Netanya is winless in its past four matches and is just three points ahead of Ironi Kiryat Shmona in the battle for a top-six finish and qualification for the championship playoffs.
Kiryta Shmona claimed its second straight victory on Sunday, defeating Bnei Sakhnin 2-1 on the road. Eden Shamir (32) and Nigel Hasselbaink (56) scored for Kiryat Shmona, with Idan Shemesh (80) netting Sakhnin’s consolation goal.